"This Is Our Standing Rock!" Help the Winnemem Wintu people fight Big Ag

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Image: Winter-run Sacramento River Chinook, NOAA Fisheries

Happy Monday! The sun rose this morning, probably, and this is the first issue of the revamped, action-oriented Letters From the Desert, in which we start to face the cold realities of the Trump era with renewed commitment and determination.

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Feinstein's Water Grab Threatens Native People and Salmon

Our first action demonstrates that it's not just the republicans we need to keep an eye on. Over the weekend of December 10, Congress passed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, a wide-ranging water infrastructure bill that would fund a variety of projects across the country. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and a few of her colleagues in the California delegation attached a rider to the bill that tips the California water management scale away from environmental protection and toward sending publicly subsidized water to private farms in the San Joaquin Valley.

There are a lot of things wrong with the rider, which President Obama signed along with the rest of the bill last week. I wrote a summary of the problems last week at KCET. I'd be thankful if you read it and boosted my page views a bit. But the issue we're concerned with here is language in the rider that would allow the next Secretary of the Interior to approve federal water projects without Congressional approval.

One of the federal water projects that agriculture interests have been asking for for a few years is raising the height of the federally operated Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet, to allow more water to be stored in the reservoir behind the dam, Lake Shasta. (Let's ignore for the moment the fact that making a reservoir bigger doesn't make more rain and snow to fill the reservoir.)

When the Shasta Dam was built in the first place, it had a whole lot of effects on California. Among the worst:

  1. It eliminated more than 95 percent of the spawning habitat for the winter-run Sacramento River Chinook salmon, which is now and endangered species as a result.

  2. It flooded a majority of the traditional lands of the Winnemem Wintu people, who had lived where the Sacramento, Pit, and McCloud rivers converged just above the dam.

Despite grievous injury from the dam, both the Winnemem Wintu people and the winter run Chinook salmon are hanging on. The Winnemem Wintu consider their fate as entirely tied to the fate of the salmon, and they have been working to restore the salmon despite the continuing presence of the dam.

Raising the dam by 18.5 feet would almost certainly consign the winter-run Chinook to extinction. It would also flood even more of the Winnemem Wintu's land, including traditional sacred sites.

When Dianne Feinstein got her rider attached to the larger water bill, Winnemem Wintu Chief Caleen Sisk went to Facebook to make a pointed comparison between her people's struggle and that of the Standing Rock Sioux:

"Here comes our DAPL push from Senator Feinstein."

You can learn more about the Winnemem Wintu's campaign to save their lands and the salmon by visiting the Tribe's website. A short video watchable on Vimeo provides an inspiring look into the work the Tribe is doing to protect their lifeways and the salmon they depend on.

Here are the actions I'm asking you to take today:

“We must begin thinking like a river if we are to leave a legacy of beauty and life for future generations." -- David Brower

Look for more news and action opportunities on Wednesday. This newsletter's format may change as we get our feet under us: your suggestions for fine-tuning are welcome. Opinions expressed here are mine alone and not my employers or anyone else's, though you're certainly welcome to borrow them.